The expansion of the Panama Canal, scheduled for completion in 2015, will put Panama in a prime position to become a transshipment hub to the Americas. While U.S. East Coast ports have been embracing and preparing for the change with a flurry of dredging projects, U.S. West Coast ports have been more apprehensive for fear of market share loss.
Currently, West Coast ports control around 70 percent of Asian imports while the East Coast and Gulf Coast ports split the remainder. The expanded Panama Canal is expected to divert cargo from the West Coast to the East Coast after transshipment to Panama.
Panama has been adamant in the benefits for the U.S. as a whole, specifically addressing benefits West Coast ports will enjoy. Former head of the Panama Canal Authority, Alberto Aleman Zubieta, has stated that the expanded canal will increase trade opportunities between growing markets in Latin America and on both the East and West coasts of the U.S. The widened canal will allow larger vessels from West Coast ports to proceed directly to emerging markets, such as Brazil in South America.
Zubieta also said that the transshipment of freight from large vessels to small vessels at Latin American ports that are not capable of accommodating mega-ships will also increase. Container ships with the capacity of up to 13,200 20-foot containers will be able to navigate the canal when the project is completed. The largest vessels that can transit the canal now have a capacity of around 5,000 TEUs.
East Coast ports are expected to increase their share of shipments from Asia when the canal is expanded, but easier access to Latin America is expected to help soften the blow on U.S. West Coast ports as well.
Panama is developing expanded port facilities on both of its coasts, which is expected to increase their role as the transshipment hub to the Americas. Aleman said the distance from Panama’s Pacific Coast to its Caribbean Coast is only about 50 miles and Panama already has more cranes than the majority of ports in Latin America. Aleman said that he envisions Panama providing similar services as the Port of Singapore, the Southeast Asia transshipment hub.
- “New Locks Could Benefit Both Coasts, Aleman Says” Bill Mongelluzzo, Associate Editor September 19, 2012 The Journal of Commerce Online – News Story